Portugal is relatively small in a world of huge countries like Australia, China, Russia and the United States. However, what it lacks in square miles it makes up for with cuisine, coastline, historic architectural details and scenic roadways.
We traversed those scenic byways and highways for in a week in December and explored hidden coastal towns with a relaxed atmosphere as well as international metropolises that buzzed with Christmas energy. Here is an overview of our week in Portugal.
Day 1 Like most flights from the US to Europe, we flew over night and landed in Lisbon first thing in the morning. We took care of the usual post flight business of getting our rental car, checking in to the hotel and then started exploring Lisbon’s squares, parks and cobblestone streets and ate dinner at the Time Out Market. However, the magic really began when the sun set and the Christmas lights came on!
Day 2 Our road trip began by driving south to Portimao. The highway to these southern coastal towns was wide and paved. The towns themselves were sleepy little towns that experience their crowds during the summers. After checking in to our 5-star, waterfront room (yes!) that was the price of a 2 or 3 star hotel because we were staying during the off season, we hiked through Praia da Marinha and then ate our weight in seafood and fresh bread at a quite corner table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Day 3 Back on the road and this time we headed north, way north. We ended up in Porto for the night, but not before walking through Aveiro and snapping photos of more Christmas lights and cute little homes and businesses on the canal lined streets. Dinner at Traça, the first taste of how much we would love Porto’s food scene and vibes.
Day 4 A morning walking the hills of Porto was rewarded with an indescribably delicious breakfast. Seriously, I won’t even try. But, when you are in town you just have to eat at Dama Pe de Cabra for strong coffee, perfectly fluffy eggs, fresh baked goods and friendly service that rivals your grandma’s house! We walked the clean streets of Porto and even got a birds eye view of the tile rooftops from the top of Clerigos Tower before driving to the Douro River Valley wine region. The drive was along curvy mountain roads, but the roads were well-paved and very modern. We arrived in the town of Barrios expecting tasting rooms and wine! We were met with one open restaurant, fog so thick it was scary to drive and a B&B that had exactly one guest room filled, ours! Looking back now it was comical, but we had two nights here and we just were not having it!
Day 5 Instead of wine tastings and vineyard tours, we adjusted our plans and headed back to Porto in the morning. We like sleepy little towns, but Barrios was beyond sleepy. Besides, we loved Porto so much the first night, we anticipated more great adventures there. We learned a great lesson on this trip and that is, not all wine regions have tasting rooms. Douro River Valley, at least in the winter, is one of those regions. Instead, we sipped port and ate chocolate overlooking the Douro River in Porto, where we began!
Day 6 We drove south, back to Lisbon for our last night in the country. On our way we stopped along the coast again, but this time in Aveiro. Aveiro boats of beaches and the cutest candy striped houses and business known to man. Literally, the cutest. You can’t persuade me otherwise! When we finally arrived in Lisbon we had our heart set on eating at Sala de Corte – the restaurant that we couldn’t get in to when we first arrived a week prior. We are so happy we were a) persistent and went back and b) lined up to get a table about 15 minutes before the restaurant opened. Yes, there was line! It’s that good!
Day 7 After driving and eating until our heart’s content, we boarded a plane bound for Miami. As always, I am happy to come home, but Portugal certainly made an impact on us. Going during their slow season, winter, was a success and highly recommended.